Three Ancient Mulberry Trees
Mulberry Tree at the Tower of London
This is London’s most spectacularly-located Mulberry tree yet I wonder if anyone notices it, growing in a quiet garden on the east side of the moat which everyone walks past in their haste to enter the Tower.
It is the latest in my ongoing-project to photograph London’s ancient Mulberry trees, that started inadvertently when I photographed the oldest one in the East End in the grounds of the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green and has grown as readers have written with further suggestions. Since I photographed my first Mulberry a month ago, they have come into leaf – offering a luxuriant foliate contrast to those bare branches of April.
Mulberry trees seem to attract stories, though I have been unable to discover anything about this intriguing specimen at the Tower of London which has chosen to keep its tales close. Down in Deptford in Sayes Court Garden, within the former garden of Diarist & Gardener, John Evelyn’s house, an old Mulberry tree is claimed to be a gift of Peter the Great.
The story can be dated to 1850 when Peter Cunningham’s ‘Handbook of London’ refers to “a tree said to have been planted by Peter the Great when working in this country as a shipwright.” Meanwhile in 1883, Nathan Dews’s ‘History of Deptford’ quotes Alfred Davis writing in 1833,“A forlornly looking, ragged mulberry tree, standing at the bottom of Czar St, was the last survivor of the thousands of arborets planted by “sylva” Evelyn in the gardens and grounds surrounding his residence at Deptford.”
John Evelyn’s correspondence confirms that he had Mulberries growing in his garden in Deptford as early as the mid-sixteenth century and propagated varieties through grafting, while recent DNA sampling of the surviving tree has revealed it to be a unique hybrid. Two years ago, the tree lost a major part of its trunk and concerns have been raised for the survival of this magnificent four hundred year old Mulberry marooned and forlorn today in a neglected municipal park.
At the top of the hill in Charlton, grows a venerable black Mulberry that is believed to be contemporary with the nearby Jacobean Charlton House, 1608, and is portrayed upon John Roque’s map of 1741. Selected as one of fifty Great British Trees by the Tree Council in 2002, it is a noble guardian – waiting patiently at the entrance to the splendid old house through four centuries. With its unusual brick church, expansive park, walled gardens and spectacular views back to City, this is a worthwhile pilgrimage for the dedicated dendrophile.
Mulberry in Sayes Court Garden, Deptford
Sayes Court Garden
Mulberry at Charlton House Park, Greenwich
Charlton House Park
With grateful thanks to Karen Liljenberg for her research about the Deptford Mulberry
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